As ever, when noticing a newspaper headline such as “Lidl worker wins £22,000 after boss held her head and asked her to go swimming”, it will be wise to look at the wider background rather than only the limited facts that caught the media interest. 
The tribunal claimant in Callaghan v Lidl was indeed awarded that sum, comprising £16,000 for injured feelings together with interest and a token amount for lost earnings. The incident took place at a weekend retreat, when drink had played its part. According to the claimant, a senior male manager had held onto her face with both hands and did not let go until asked three times, despite her obvious discomfort; according to the manager, this was part of a group hug. The swimming request involved the manager asking her why she was not going to use the facilities at the retreat, and telling her it was “ridiculous” for her to feel uncomfortable. This was despite her chronic knee pain and use of a brace. 
It might seem surprising that the tribunal criticised the investigation for accepting the manager’s uncorroborated evidence and rejecting the claimant’s. Is there anything wrong with perceiving one witness to be untrustworthy from the outset? However, in the overall context of a sexual harassment allegation, this approach was considered flawed. Had the claimant’s account been accepted, this would have made it necessary to initiate a wider investigation, with the embarrassment factor of a junior female employee having accused a senior manager. The tribunal found it reasonable to infer that this element shifted the burden onto Lidl to explain the difference in treatment, and that it had failed to do so. 
More to the point, what about the elephant in the room? The manager said that the face holding incident was part of a group hug. Common sense dictated that a reasonable investigating officer would ask for details of the other willing huggers. Whether accidentally, or deliberately, this line of enquiry was left unaddressed. 
The rejection of the grievance led to a 5 day liability trial and a 3 day remedies hearing. The £22,000 award against Lidl would have been dwarfed by the costs and the wasted time it was also left to face. 
Are you facing a tricky grievance hearing with uncomfortable issues? Unsure how best to strike the balance between the risk of internal embarrassment and the risk of a costly legal process if it goes wrong? Feel free to get in touch. Contact David Cooper on 0121 325 542 or via . 
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